Autism Through Cinema
Cat People (1942) dir. Jacques Tourneur

Cat People (1942) dir. Jacques Tourneur

July 23, 2021

We welcome special guest PhD student Ethan Lyon to the podcast, who brings along the 1942 horror classic Cat People for our scrutiny. Starring Simone Simon in the lead role, this moody horror noir folows Serbian immigrant Irena who believes herself to be a descendant of an ancient tribe of persecuted people who metamophorsize into bloodthirsty panthers when aroused. Ethan asks us to consider whether Irena might be understood through the lens of autism as a societal outsider who struggles with a number of sensory challenges, while forever under the scrutiny of the psychoanalytic gaze. We also discuss the legacies of historical events upon a person's identity, the Gothic in relation to the construction of mental health, and the often whimsical association of cats with autism, and dogs with neurotypicality.

Huge thanks to Ethan for joining us for this episode. The other discussants here are Alex Widdowson, Janet Harbord, David Hartley, Georgia Bradburn and John-James Laidlow.

As ever, please send your thoughts and comments to cinemautism@gmail.com

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For tickets to our Barbican season 'Autism and Cinema', please follow this link: https://www.barbican.org.uk/whats-on/2021/series/autism-and-cinema-an-exploration-of-neurodiversity

Under the Skin (2013) dir. Jonathan Glazer

Under the Skin (2013) dir. Jonathan Glazer

July 9, 2021

A sci-fi film, based on Michel Faber’s novel and set in Glasgow, follows Scarlet Johansson as a nameless alien recently arrived on earth to prey on men and harvest their organs. The discussion considers whether Johansson’s character offers an outsider’s view of neurotypicality that is close to that of autism, looking on at a world of perplexing social rituals of seduction and consumption, or whether a suggested affinity between autism and a character who is alien is problematic. Also debated are the topics of posthumanism, feminist alien abduction of the male species, the film’s ethnographic style of filming ‘humankind’, Glasgow and white working-class culture, compassion between male characters, and the exploration of sexuality and gender as alien concepts.

Discussants: Georgia Kumari Bradburn, Janet Harbord, David Hartley, John-James Laidlow, Alex Widdowson.

Email us your insights at: cinemautism@gmail.com

The Gleaners and I (2000) dir. Agnes Varda

The Gleaners and I (2000) dir. Agnes Varda

June 25, 2021

Varda’s film explores the history and contemporary practices of gleaning (picking up leftovers after the act of harvesting), putting digression at the centre of its approach. Following wherever intuition and coincidence lead, the film becomes a non-linear accumulation of stories and objects. The discussion considers whether Varda is a trickster figure in her style of striking up ‘stranger familiarity’, and whether it is a film of peripheral outsiders or a display of how different people are everywhere. A particular resonance with autism is its celebration of monotropism and special interests, which leads to a debate of whether filmmaking in itself can be seen as a type of autistic hyper-focus.

Discussants: Alex Widdowson, David Hartley, Georgia Kumari Bradburn, Janet Harbord, John-James Laidlow, & Vicky Thonton.

Email us your reactions to cinemautism@gmail.com

Pi (1998) dir. Darren Aronofski

Pi (1998) dir. Darren Aronofski

June 11, 2021

Aronofsky’s first feature film is discussed in terms of its closeness to autistic meltdown, an affect that appears rarely in film, driven by the character’s fascination with patterns, a propensity for maths as the language of the universe and a magical number. Computers feature heavily in the film, debated as either a potentially problematic alliance between autism and automatism, or possibly autistic attention to the material world and its many capacities. The film’s ending proves controversial: does it suggest that lobotomy is the only way to end suffering for Max, that there is no place in this world for neurodiversity?

Discussants: Georgia Bradburn, Janet Harbord, David Hartley, Alex Widdowson.

Email us your thoughts at cinemautism@gmail.com

The Rider (2017) dir. Chloe Zhao

The Rider (2017) dir. Chloe Zhao

May 28, 2021

The discussion of Chloé Zhao’s second feature film addresses the fine line between fact and fiction with actors playing themselves. We debate whether autistic sister Lily (Lily Jandreau) is the only free character in this western set in the badlands of South Dakota, resistant to the demands of the hyper-masculine patriarchal world of rodeo and refusing the trappings of femininity by cutting up a bra her father buys her. There’s also debate about whether difference is drafted into the film as story markers or plot points, the problematic treatment of animals (particularly horses), and the potentially cliched idea that there’s affinity between animals and autistic people.

It's also worth noting that this episode was recorded before Zhao won the Best Picture and Best Director Academy Awards for Nomadland (2020), just in case you were wondering why we don't mention it!

Discussants: Georgia Bradburn, Steven Eastwood, Janet Harbord, David Hartley, Alex Widdowson.

Good Time (2017) dir. The Safdie Brothers, & Music (2021) dir. Sia

Good Time (2017) dir. The Safdie Brothers, & Music (2021) dir. Sia

May 14, 2021

Can non-autistic actors play autistic characters motivates this discussion which takes as its focus the Safdie brothers’ film Good Time, and references Sia’s Music along the way. The problematic performance of a learning disability in Music is considered in its reductive and child-like presentation. We discuss whether Nick in Good Time, a character with a learning disability played by Ben Safdie, can offer something more positive as a vehicle for exploring autistic meltdowns and masking. Or is he, like many autistic characters, a narrative prosthesis, grafted on to a plot essentially about the drama of crime. Does institutional care offer support away from his brother’s exploitation, or confinement and a restricted life. Anxiety generated through the pace and soundtrack including tracks by Oneohtrix Point Never, and the Iggy Pop song The Pure and the Damned.

Discussants: Alex, David, Georgia, Janet, John-James.

Punch-Drunk Love (2002) dir. Paul Thomas Anderson

Punch-Drunk Love (2002) dir. Paul Thomas Anderson

May 7, 2021

Adam Sandler’s intensity as a character and actor garners much love in this discussion of autism, comedy and romance. The relationship of the neurodivergent character with his neurotypical siblings is discussed in terms of its pain and discomfort, and the character’s romantic relationship as an antidote to this. The character’s chaos meets a certain otherness in Emily Watson’s character, perhaps her Englishness featuring as Other. The discussion debates whether the film sets and colour palette, and the spatial arrangement of the scenes, foreground an autistic sensibility.  Equally significant in this discussion is the eclectic soundtrack including Shitmat.

 

Discussants: Alex, David, Georgia.

Autism Through Cinema: Preview

Autism Through Cinema: Preview

May 7, 2021

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